One summer staple for me is cicadas. There’s something about their droning, haunting song on a humid summer evening that makes the season complete. Growing up in Nebraska, I’m used to the annual cicada, which shows up, well, yearly and sticks around for a couple of months until they slowly fade away. Moving to Indiana eight years ago, I’d heard about super broods of cicadas that pop up out of the soil every so often. Guess what? 2021 was one of those years.
And when I say “pop out of the soil,” that’s very literal. When we first started identified the song of Brood X–they would gather together en masse in one direction and sounded a lot like an otherworldly spaceship–we also started noticing pencil-sized holes poked in the soil, especially in bare patches near trees.
It didn’t take much looking to find the mature cicadas. They’d pull themselves from the dirt, shed their juvenile exoskeleton, and wait on whatever twig or fenceline or bush was closest until their wings were ready for flight.
At first, it was pretty interesting to see. I’d worked for several entomologists in college and lost a lot of my fear and apprehension of insects around that time, and I’ve always tried to make sure that my kids aren’t ninnies about bugs, either. They’re part of the natural world and an interesting part at that. So, it wasn’t a surprise when they started catching them to bring inside and show me what they’d found. I’d ooo and ahh, then tell them to take them back outside. Yay for bugs, but that doesn’t mean I want them in the kitchen.
With each passing day, the sheer number of cicadas started to become overwhelming. Their quaint siren song became deafening, especially on the days they decided our little forest was to be the hot new dating scene. They’d drown themselves in our animals’ water troughs in high enough numbers that the water started to stink with their little corpses. We couldn’t walk outside without several of the very clumsy bugs flying straight into us and they started occasionally letting themselves inside without being invited. Every time we’d hear a weird noise in the house late at night, it turned out to be a cicada that was trapped inside, usually in the stupidest of places. The Tupperware drawer? Yep. Under the washing machine? Found it. Behind the freezer? Sounds like a fun hang out to me!
Though the cicadas spend 17 years of their existence maturing underground when they pop out of the dirt like a night of living dead (a.k.a. freaky bug zombies), their only purpose is to reproduce, lay their eggs, and die. It’s good in a sense that they don’t have the munchies like some other bugs, but they still do harm, especially to the tender new growth of trees. All of the trees in our orchard and most if not all the rest of the trees on our property had some damage from them laying their eggs. Basically, they cut tiny slits in the tender growth, lay their eggs, which then hatch, fall to the ground, and wriggle into the dirt. Seems an odd way to come into the world, but who am I to judge?
We decided to fight back as best as we could. Though there were literally trillions of cicadas that hatched in Brood X, we weren’t going to roll over and let them make their baby nurseries anywhere they saw fit. During those six weeks of cicada craziness, the kids spent a lot of time outside plucking cicadas off the orchard trees, hoping their efforts would mean something.
Nature was in on the secret, too. Cicadas aren’t the brightest bug in the wild, and other predators took advantage of that. We saw tons of assassin bugs which are really good at, well, assassinating other insects. We cheered for them but kept our distance, ’cause those assassin bugs are cranky and have a scary arsenal of venom and a pokey proboscis. Birds and praying manti and bats came out in droves and ate until they were stuffed. Even the dog tried a few of them but was quickly shooed back inside since she didn’t seem to know that they aren’t nature’s dog treats.
Ten minutes outside would easily yield a jarful of cicadas. Then what? I hate wasting, even if it’s an insect that annoys me because I can’t get a second of peace and quiet with them around. Solution? Fishing!
The fish went wild for them…for a while. At their peak, there were so many cicadas divebombing into the pond that the fish got so sick of eating them and were stuffed to the gills that they couldn’t take another bite.
|How many cicadas can you count? There were hundreds just on this bush!
The whole experience with Brood X reminded me of a time when one of my uncles owned a cotton candy business. Initially, we were thrilled to death when he’d bring over the leftover cotton candy but it didn’t take long for us to get so sick of the sugary treat that we stopped eating it and mostly derived entertainment by washing it down the sink. It was the same with the cicadas–fun at first, then entirely overwhelming and loud enough that we weren’t sad to see them go. It was an experience I can definitely wait 17 more years to experience again.
A bientot, cicadas! Until 2038!